Darjeeling, West Bengal’s picturesque hill station at the foot of the Eastern Himalayas, has a stormy past. It was part of the kingdom of Sikkim until being developed by the British in the mid-nineteenth century, and it was also briefly governed by invading Gorkhas from Nepal. Darjeeling quickly became a famous British summer resort, and they quickly learned that the temperature was ideal for growing tea, their favourite beverage.
Darjeeling is, unsurprisingly, one of West Bengal’s most popular tourist destinations. However, you’ll immediately discover that the culture is vastly different. Many immigrants from neighbouring countries like Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan have settled in the town. The primary language spoken is Nepali, not Hindi or Bengali. The best activities to do in Darjeeling take into account the region’s unique history.
Ride the Toy Train on the Himalayan Mountain Railway
Darjeeling is also known for its vintage toy railway, which is in addition to tea. The British constructed the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1881, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It stretches from the foothills of the Himalayas to Darjeeling town. The entire trek takes almost a full day. Shorter pleasure rides are, nevertheless, conceivable. The Batasia Loop from Darjeeling to Ghoom is the most popular. The train makes a 10-minute stop at Batasia Loop, where there is a viewpoint and a military memorial dedicated to Darjeeling’s Gorkha troops. It also makes a 30-minute stop in Ghoom, where a railway museum is located.
Take a Tea Garden Tour
More than 80 tea gardens dot the hills surrounding Darjeeling, and any vacation there would be incomplete without a visit to at least a handful of them. You’ll see gardens everywhere as you leave Darjeeling town, and you may stop at any that appeal to you. Most places will let you take a walk around. Many also sell teas.
The most well-known tea garden is Happy Valley Tea Estate. It’s only five minutes from town, so it’s always packed with visitors. The estate has a lengthy history, dating back to 1850, and produces some of the region’s best organic teas. You may dress up in traditional Nepali clothing and pose in the tea gardens for an extra 50 rupees.
Badamtam Tea Estate is known for having a towering Buddha statue reigning over its tea trees, located approximately 15 minutes north of Darjeeling town.
Near Kurseong, about an hour and a half south of Darjeeling, you’ll find some great tea gardens. Makaibari Tea Estate (which produces some of the world’s rarest and most costly tea), Castleton (which has been held by Kolkata nobility and has a castle-like structure), and the huge Ambootia Tea Estate are among them (their organic Darjeeling black tea is highly regarded).
Nuxalbari Tea Estate is worth a visit if you’re flying into Bagdogra Airport and travelling to Darjeeling. Only 15 minutes from the airport is this prestigious tea farm. It is India’s first significant tea plantation to produce “Certified Elephant Friendly Tea,” and it is owned and controlled by women. Elephants are allowed to freely roam the tea gardens!
Find out how tea is made.
From March through November, visitors may see and even participate in the tea harvesting process.
Some of the larger tea farms have factory visits available. The finest spot to visit is Happy Valley Tea Estate, which is the nearest to town. You’ll see how the leaves are plucked, oxidised, separated, and processed in detail. Fascinating! The guided tea excursions are available every day from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. for 100 rupees.
Another good spot to learn about tea processing is Makaibari Tea Estate. Their tea factory tour is well-organized and informative, with samples available for sampling. The price is twenty rupees. They also offer a unique homestay programme in which you may spend the night in the hamlet with a tea plucker family and participate in their morning labour for an authentic experience.
Staying on a Tea Plantation
Want to get away from the buzz and bustle of Darjeeling? Tea planter bungalows have been converted into private guest lodgings by estate owners who have embraced tea tourism. Check out our picks for the best locations to stay on tea plantations in India. However, they aren’t inexpensive, so be prepared to invest! Rainbow Valley Resort, located 50 minutes south of Darjeeling on the Kalej Valley Tea Estate, is a popular budget alternative. A double room in a wooden hut costs around 3,500 rupees per night. Tathagata Farm is located 45 minutes northeast of Darjeeling in an organic tea producing village. With village visits and day treks, it delivers a real local experience. Cottages and luxury tents are available as guest accommodations. The nightly rates start at around 4,000 rupees.
Take a stroll through the British-Era Mall.
Darjeeling, like other British-established hill settlements in India, has a Mall Road that runs through the town. It begins at one end of pedestrianised Chowrasta Square, the town’s central gathering point, and ends at the other after making a large circle around Observatory Hill. The pleasant, forested route is lined with major historical buildings from the British Raj era, as well as various vistas, one of which offers views of Mount Kanchenjunga. The entire trek takes roughly 20 minutes to complete. You may rent a pony for a few hundred rupees if you don’t feel enthusiastic or fit. Chowrasta Square is a great place to people-watch, so stay a while and soak up the atmosphere.
Take a look at places where Hindu and Buddhist faiths coexist
Take a detour off Mall Road and up Observatory Hill to the magnificent Mahakal temple complex. A Buddhist monastery, founded by Lama Dorjey Rinzing in 1765, once stood on this site. After three Shiva lingas (symbols of Lord Shiva) revealed themselves there in 1782, he reportedly erected the Mahakal temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Unfortunately, marauding Gorkhas from Nepal plundered the monastery in 1815. The temple, however, is still standing, surrounded by Buddhist prayer flags and prayer wheels. It’s not uncommon to see a Hindu priest and a Buddhist monk praying together. A sacred cave and a few other temples are nearby. There are also a lot of monkeys. Food should not be carried since they may lunge for it!
Relax with a cup of tea while taking in the views at Sunset Lounge.
Where better to watch the sunset than at Chowrasta Square’s Sunset Lounge? This tea bar is linked to the tea shop of Nathmulls, a well-known Darjeeling tea trader. The range of teas offered is wide, as one would anticipate. If you’re having trouble deciding, the owner will provide ideas. Alternatively, hold a tea sampling session (600 rupees for two people). There are six teas in total: three black, two green, and one white. Pastries and pastries from the on-site bakery are delectable to go with it. There is also complimentary wireless Internet access. Tea accoutrements, as well as tea, are available at Nathmulls and make excellent gifts for tea connoisseurs.
The Windamere Hotel Takes You Back in Time
Do you want to gain a sense of how Darjeeling was during British administration in India? On Observatory Hill, the Windamere Hotel is the place to be. Some may think it’s stuck in a time warp, while others may find it charmingly odd. The hotel was built in the 1880s as a boarding house for British colonists, and nothing has changed in over a century, including the vintage furnishings and traditional rituals. The hotel takes pleasure in offering formal meals in the dining hall (no room service), with established schedules for children and adults. Dinner guests are asked to dress correctly – no nightgowns, pyjamas, or “short pants” are permitted! The traditional afternoon high tea, served by waiters dressed as tea maids from the 1930s, is a highlight. There’s a good chance you’ll meet some interesting folks there. Rates for a double room start at 13,500 rupees per night, which includes all meals.
Take a look at Mt. Kanchenjunga.
If the weather forecast calls for clear skies, most visitors go to Tiger Hill early in the morning to see the sunrise over Mount Kanchenjunga’s snow-capped summits (the highest mountain in India and third highest in the world). The months of mid-October through December, as well as March and April, are ideal for this. Unfortunately, the performance may be ruined by the usually unpredictable mist or fog. Some folks are put off by the weather and the early start time. To beat the crowds, you’ll need to leave your hotel by 3 a.m. to 4 a.m., depending on the time of year. Otherwise, you risk becoming trapped in the convoy of automobiles and missing out on a position at the Observatory Tower and Deck. Ticket fees vary by level and range from 30 to 50 rupees. Mount Kanchenjunga can be seen from several sites surrounding Darjeeling town, so don’t be too concerned if you miss the show.
The Buddhist Monasteries are awe-inspiring.
The region’s major religion, Buddhism, is reflected in the abundance of Buddhist monasteries in and around Darjeeling. Their vibrant paintings, colossal golden sculptures, and enveloping tranquilly make them fascinating locations to visit. The closest monastery to town is Bhutia Busty Monastery. It was created in the 19th century after being transferred from Observatory Hill, where the Mahakal temple is located, and stands downhill from Chowrasta Square.
There are several monasteries in the Ghoom area. Yiga Choeling Monastery (the region’s earliest Tibetan Buddhist monastery), Guru Monastery (attend morning prayer from 5.30 a.m. to 7.30 a.m. after returning from Tiger Hill), and Samten Choeling Gompa are among them (with the largest Buddha statue in West Bengal). Between Ghoom and Darjeeling, Dali Monastery, properly known as Druk Sangag Choeling Monastery, is a must-see.
Participate in the World Peace Prayer
The Japanese Peace Pagoda, located halfway between Ghoom and Darjeeling, is another serene and captivating site. It’s one of several peace pagodas built across the world under the direction of Japanese Buddhist monk Nichidatsu Fujii in the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the conclusion of WWII. The monk was a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi and a fervent believer in nonviolence and harmony. Gold sculptures of Lord Buddha in various positions and artwork commemorating his life adorn the pagoda. Morning prayers for global peace are held in the prayer hall from 4.30 a.m. to 6 a.m., and afternoon prayers are held from 4.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Visitors are welcome to participate and play a drum if they so want.
Rugs to Watch Being Woven
The Tibetan Refuge Self-Help Center on West Lebong Cart Road is a fascinating venue to observe traditional rug making. This institute was founded in 1959 to assist Tibetans who had fled their nation after China’s conquest. It provided them with a market for producing and selling Tibetan handicrafts in order to earn money. Because the majority of the immigrants have grown older, the workshops aren’t as productive as they previously were. Various handcrafts, including carpets, are still offered on the site. You may also create your own rug from scratch or select from a catalogue. An instructive display of ancient images and documents related to the Tibetan struggle is also available to visitors. On Sundays, the centre is closed.
Momos are delicious.
Darjeeling’s food, like its culture, is heavily inspired by Tibet and Nepal. Momos, the archetypal mountain soul dish, may be found in abundance. However, on the way to the zoo, the oddly called Hot Stimulating Cafe serves up some of India’s greatest momos (albeit they’re only vegetarian). This basic cafe is actually one of the greatest locations to relax in Darjeeling, with a fantastic view of the valley and tea plants from its back terrace. Consume the momos with tumba from the area (millet and wheat beer). There are also informal cooking workshops where you can learn how to prepare momos! The café is open from early morning until late evening every day.
Investigate the Local Market
For a true local market experience, visit Darjeeling’s essential Chowk Bazaar (also known as Lower Bazaar). It’s downhill off Hill Cart Road to the south of town, and it’s where the town’s citizens go to get just about everything at a discount. Wholesale spices, tea, vegetables, meat, Buddhist antiques, masks, household items, shoes, textiles, carpets, and hats are among the commodities sold in its lanes. The market is open from early morning until late at night, except on Thursdays. Weekends are particularly crowded, as sellers bring in large quantities of goods from nearby villages to sell. Be ready for crowds and mayhem!
Identify the Shy Red Panda and Other Exotic Animals
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoo is one of India’s greatest and a popular family attraction in Darjeeling. This high-altitude zoo was founded in 1958 to assist in the conservation and breeding of endangered native Himalayan creatures such as the snow leopard, Himalayan wolf, and red panda (after which Mozilla’s Firefox Internet browser is claimed to be named). Bears, birds, panthers, deer, and reptiles can also be found there. Many animals are maintained in a safe open environment, so it’s like though you’re seeing them in the wild.
There’s also a museum featuring a collection of stuffed animals and birds. The zoo is roughly a 20-minute walk from Chowrasta through Lebong Cart Road to the north of town. Except on Thursdays, it is open from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. daily. Allow for a couple of hours to see everything there is to see. Foreigners pay 100 rupees for a ticket that costs 60 rupees for Indians. There is an extra camera cost to pay.
Learn more about mountaineering and try your hand at rock climbing
Tenzing Norgay, who scaled Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, created the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute behind the zoo. Its museum is an unrivalled resource for knowledge on Mount Everest as well as other significant mountain expeditions. It may be combined with a visit to the zoo because tickets cover both. The institute also operates a mountaineering training facility that offers beginner to advanced mountaineering courses as well as recreational rock climbing activities. There is an indoor rock wall which you may climb for 30 rupees. Otherwise, more difficult outdoor rock climbing may be found on the northern outskirts of Darjeeling at Tenzing Norgay Rock.
Paragliding in Darjeeling
Thrill-seekers will be pleased to learn that paragliding is possible in Darjeeling. In 2006, Off Road Adventure began operating there. Blue Dragon Adventure and Travel is also a recommended paragliding company. Flights depart from Saint Paul School at Jalapahar, about a 10-minute drive north of Darjeeling, and land at Lebong Ground. You’ll enjoy a spectacular view of the town, tea plantations, and mountain peaks from above. Paragliding is only available from October to April and is depending on wind conditions. Tandem flights are available for people who have never flown before. Depending on the circumstances, expect to spend 3,500 rupees each person for 15 to 30 minutes.
Take advantage of the great outdoors.
Darjeeling is adjacent to numerous notable hiking and trekking paths that may be traversed in a day or longer, in addition to the walking options surrounding town. Ascending the Tiger Hill top is a fantastic alternative if you wish to trek solo. From Chowrasta, take Tenzing Norgay Road or Gandhi Road. Day walks to Tonglu or Tumling villages, on the other hand, provide excellent vistas of Mount Kanchenjunga. These walks begin around two or three hours outside of Darjeeling. The hikes are led by respected businesses such as Adventures Unlimited, Blue Dragon Adventure, Off Road Adventure, and Ashmita Trek and Tours, who provide transportation and guides.
Try the multi-day journey to Sandakphu, which is located at the peak of the Singalila mountain range. It takes four to five days to finish, and you don’t need to be in great shape if you’re used to walking. The scenery, plants, and animals are all spectacular. Continue on to Phalut from Sandakphu for an extra difficulty (or drive to Sandakphu and start trekking from there). All of the following firms, as well as Tenzing Norgay Adventures, provide various trekking programmes.
At Revolver Guest Room, you may be a “Day Tripper.”
Are you a fan of The Beatles, the world-famous 1960s English rock band? At Revolver, you’ll feel completely at home. This charming inexpensive hotel is designed on the Beatles, with each of its five rooms named after one of the band’s members (plus manager Brian Epstein). The Beatles have naturally enraged the proprietors. They’ve strewn Beatles memorabilia about the guesthouse, including pictures, posters, and stamps. They also offer memorabilia from the Beatles, such as mugs and coasters. In the restaurant, guests are welcome to play the Washburn acoustic guitar. The restaurant’s menu is also adorned with Beatles facts. Naga cuisine, a nutritious speciality, is a delight! The cost of a double room starts at 1,400 rupees per night.